East religions favour the dog

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Outside the Middle East, major religions were and still are more dog friendly. Zoroastrianism became established well over 3,000 years ago in what is now Iran. Although its sacred literature was not written down until 500 CE, one of its sacred books, Fargard 13 of the Vendidad, which forms part of the Zend Avesta is devoted to the dog. In an English translation dated 1887, in Part VIII of Fargard 13 it says: “A dog has the characters of eight sorts of people. He has the character of a priest. He has the character of a warrior. He has the character of a husbandman. He has the character of a strolling singer. He has the character of a thief. He has the character of a disu (a wild beast). He has the character of a courtesan. He has the character of a child.”

An explanation follows. He’s like a priest because he’s “patient and easily satisfied”, like a warrior because he “fights for the benefit of the cow”, like a husbandman because he’s “first out of the house in the morning and last in at night”. The analogies continue and to me they accurately reflect an excellent understanding of dog behaviour. Dogs are “fond of sleep, full of tongue, fond of singing, fond of darkness, shameless eaters, tender like snow”. They can be “ill-trained, wound those who get too near, roam the roads, dig the earth with their paws”.

With the expansion of Islam from the west, the centre of Zoroastrianism moved east from Persia into India where it survives. (Queen’s late Freddie Mercury, the music conductor Zubin Mehta, the Canadian novelist Rohinton Mistry and the industrialist Ratan Tata are internationally famous present day Zoroastrians are Parsees.) According to Khojeste P. Mistree, who I contacted through a veterinary colleague who practices in Mumbai, even today at a traditional Zoroastrian funeral ceremony, a dog is brought into the room several times to view the corpse before it is placed in the “Tower of Silence”. A dog that has two white markings above the eyes has a gaze that is said to frighten away evil. The gaze of this so-called “four-eyed dog” can frighten away the demoness that is said to pollute the corpse at the time of death. The dog accompanies the soul of the deceased as it proceeds to judgement at the Bridge of the Separator. In the Zoroastrian creation story, the dog is seen as the collaborator of Srosh, God’s vice regent on earth. The barking of a dog is said to frighten away evil, particularly at night.

In Hinduism the dog is included in the autumn Tihar festival in Nepal. Religious belief says that the dog is a messenger of the angel of death, and dogs guard the doors of Heaven. Dogs are said to protect homes and their inhabitants. In order to please the dogs that they will meet at Heaven’s door, in order to be allowed into Heaven, people in Nepal mark the 14th day of the lunar cycle in November as Kukur-tihar, the dog’s day. On that day, dogs are garlanded with marigolds, incense is burned and a vermilion dot is applied to the dog’s forehead. Dogs are also offered special food on that day. In Zoroastrianism, dogs fulfil a similar role. A soul cannot pass the Chinvat Bridge and go to heaven without passing the dog who guards the Gates of Heaven.

Buddhism is also dog friendly although the religion can be surprisingly negative about dogs, as it can be about all animals. As do all major beliefs, Buddhism teaches love and kindness for all animals, including dogs. A dog is as capable of perfect enlightenment as a person is but the concept of karma teaches that wrong behaviour can lead to your soul being reborn in the body of a non-human animal and this includes a dog. I know lots of people who’d love to be reborn as beloved pet dogs, but in Buddhism, being reborn as a dog is a serious spiritual setback. That’s because dogs can’t engage in conscious acts of self-improvement so that means continually being reborn as a dog and never being able to resume your quest for nirvana.

The dog is a good friend in Chinese tradition??The dog is one of the 12 animals honoured in Chinese astrology. The second day of the Chinese New Year is considered to be the birthday of all dogs and Chinese people often take care to be kind to dogs on that day. In Chinese tradition, the dog is an auspicious animal, a friend who understands the human’s spirit and obeys its master, whether he is wealthy or not. Chinese tradition says that if a dog comes to your house, you should adopt it for it symbolizes the coming of fortune. (Or meals on wheels. I’ll explain that other popular Chinese tradition – ancient and modern – of eating dogs, later on.) A person born in the Year of the Dog has a straightforward character. In their career and in love, they are, like the dog, faithful, courageous, dexterous, clever and warm-hearted although women born under this sign “lack stability”. In case you want to check whether this is you, previous Years of the Dog are 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994 and 2006. The next Year of the Dog is 2018.

Dogs and death are often associated??Regional religions throughout the world frequently associate dogs, as Hinduism does, with death. Dogs are often the companions of the dead, gatekeepers or guardians of the underworld or intercessors with the gods. In many Central Asian regions, by feeding human corpses to dogs the souls of the dead passed directly to dogs. Cerberus, the three-headed dog of Greek myth, guards the entrance to Hades while hounds accompanied Hekate, the somber Greek goddess who haunted tombs and crossroads and to whom dogs were sacrificed. In Scandinavian lore the dog Garm was a sinister creature while in the Americas the dog-headed Aztec god Xolotl led the sun through the nocturnal underworld until it was reborn with the following dawn. In Mayan myth dogs carried human souls across the river of death. In North America, the white dog was sacred to the Dog Feast, a widely held practice of both plains and eastern Native Peoples such as the Ojibwa in which a white dog was strangled, seared over a fire and eaten.

As the first true dogs spread around the world, our ancestors’ attitudes towards them were almost always practical and utilitarian. Sometimes dogs were simply irritating. At other times they were useful. But in our early relationship with them dogs seldom filled the social and psychological roles that dogs like Bean do today. Or did they? Native American sayings may be genuine or the products of vivid modern minds but there’s one I like that says. “God Made the earth, the sky and the water, the moon and the sun. He made man and bird and beast. But He didn’t make the dog. He already had one.”

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